Toolbox: SMT soldering tools


In the Make: Online Toolbox, we focus mainly on tools that fly under the radar of more conventional tool coverage: in-depth tool-making projects, strange, or specialty tools unique to a trade or craft that can be useful elsewhere, tools and techniques you may not know about, but once you do, and incorporate them into your workflow, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. And, in the spirit of the times, we pay close attention to tools that you can get on the cheap, make yourself, or refurbish.


I just got an evaluation unit for an Edsyn 1036 Atmoscope SMD Hot Air Work Station, for review here on MAKE. I can’t wait to try it out! I haven’t done much surface-mount and never really gathered the proper tools to do anything beyond a half-baked (pretty much literally) parts replacement. So, I was tickled by the timing of an email that came from my HacDC/Dorkbot DC compadres, Riley Porter, and MAKE contributor Alden Hart. Riley wanted to share some of what Alden had been posting to the HacDC hardware hackers e-list about SMT soldering and his toolset. This is, obviously, one person’s set-up. You might recommend other tools. Please do, in the comments.

This image is from the Surface Mount Soldering Primer in MAKE Volume 16.

Here are the tools I find myself always needing when doing SMT projects. Deal Extreme can be a source for many of them. Be prepared to wait a few weeks, however.

Must have:

– Those tweezers
– Soldering iron with fine pointed tip (preferably temperature-controlled)
– Soldering iron tip cleaner pad or wool
– Fine braid solder wick (the good stuff, not the cheesy surplus stuff – DX is no good here)
– 10x magnifying glass or loupe (preferably with its own light source)
– Fine-gauge solder (sorry, not at my desk to read off a dimension)
– Solder paste in a syringe with a fine nozzle
– Flux pen
– Voltmeter (VOM) with continuity tester/beeper
– Panavise or some other vise for securing board
– Dental probe for moving parts around, holding them down, and scraping things

Nice to have:

– Hot-air rework station (don’t absolutely need it, but very useful)
– Hot plate for reflow
– IR thermometer for the above
– Protective goggles to look really closely during reflow
– Digital calipers
– Solder paste in a tub
– #30 wire for fixing mistakes (wire wrap wire)
– X-acto knife or razor knife for fixing mistakes
– Extra pair of hands around to occasionally hold parts down
– Little lidded containers for little SMT parts (like these, these, and these at DX)
(DX seems to be sold out of the really nice 1″ cubes. Can’t find ’em)



Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn